I like OpenOffice, though higher-end features of Word and Excel might not work, e.g. macros. If you have a Mac, NeoOffice is a custom version of OpenOffice "aquified" to look and work like other Mac apps. Nice and fairly mature, though not as fast or featureful as Office 2004 for OS X. OpenOffice has all the basics, most of the fancy stuff.
As for outlines, maybe OneNote. Much as I dislike Microsoft, that's a cool application. My favorite non-Microsoft academic desktop tool may be WordPerfect, which is still surprisingly good, especially for outlining. It can output to PDF, read and write .doc files just like the latest OpenOffice (more or less), and seems stable and powerful.
However, I worry about my laptop being dropped or stolen, so I may use Google Docs for briefs. It is a far cry from a high-end word processor, but I won't have to worry about backups and can use any computer on the Internet. Some may worry about privacy or the reliability of the Internet, but I have less faith in the survival of local drives, and I do not plan to blow much time running backups. Also, you can email a doc to a Google account and have it ready to edit later, a possible time saver. I have this briefing form which sends such an email when completed.
I'd like to try the beta of Thinkfree Premium, but they have been slow about responding to my request, and I think it's too new to be counted on. Google Docs is also young, but seems very stable and should serve my purposes.